September 10, 2008

State of Terror

From a conversation with a friend today:

My world is largely divided into people who scoff at the idea that I could be scary and people who are terrified of me. There is a small group of people who see the potential for terror but aren't scared, although they do have visible moments of wariness. These are my friends.

Feel free to chime in in the comments and sort yourselves out. I'm taking my scary self to bed. :)


Anonymous said...

Interesting, and important. But I have a comment that has nothing to do with fear of you, me, your friend, or who may have said this, but rather arises from two other conversations I'm involved in (one on the web, one at the U) (but it is related):

The way a person conceives of another or how a person treats another or reacts to another has more to do with the person doing the conception/treating/reacting, and the characteristics of this second party, than with the focal individual. Don't you think?

Which reminds me of a story.

One day, many years ago before I was even old enough to legally drink, I was at the bar having a drink with some friends. I was sitting at the bar with two women, one was a professional prostitute who happened to be my across the street neighbor and the other was a woman in the publishing business who was a neighbor from down the street. I mention their professions because I think it underscores the potential that they might be more than average in the perception department (and that accords with how I felt about each of them).

They had just met each other, though I had known them both pretty well for several months.

For some reason the conversation came around to me. Mary (assumed name) said "The thing about Greg is that you can always tell exactly what he is thinking. He is so expressive." Joan (assumed name) replied "What, are you kidding? He's like the Sphinx! You can never tell what he's thinking."

These two friends of mine who had just met went back and forth along these lines arguing it out for about ten minutes while I sat there trying to think of what had happened, or not happened, between any of us to give/not give this impression/non impression. It occurred to me for the very first time that a person may be able to be more or less expressive or more or less understood routinely. I wondered if it was good to be easily understood or better to be a sphinx. I pondered how these two people, with whom I had very similar relationships by any measure including how long we had known each other, have such totally opposite views.

I am still wondering all these things, and I am still always, every time, totally shocked whenever anyone tells me what they think is going on in here (pointing to my own head).

(on a personal level, not about issues and discussions such as on the blogosphere.)

Almost as shocked as when Mary's boyfriend came home from the war, or prison, or wherever he was. Crap. Mary has a boyfriend? But that is another story.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Oops. I was quoting me. I was pretty tired, though, so I'm not surprised I forgot to make that explicit.

Fascinating. I think the characteristics of the second party are hugely important, although I'd want to think pretty hard before assigning even vague percentages. I think most people have a fairly small range of roles they sort people into and a limited amount of social behavior in their repertoire. It might be all people, but I'd like to think I and mine are special. :)

Shocked? Because they're right, wrong, or even tried to guess?

I am basically a sphinx (much early training) unless I work very hard at being transparent. People have, once or twice, tried to tell me otherwise, but they've been so wrong in the details that I couldn't take them seriously. I am completely and utterly floored whenever someone gets something critical right about me without me already having told them. Happened yesterday, in fact.

I'll have to add that to the list of stories to ask you for someday.

Stephanie Zvan said...

To add a few thoughts on the subject of limited roles for the reactor to slot the actor into, I would break that down further. The reactor is going to be largely limited to understanding motivations that they've encountered before and probably drawn to explaining behavior with motivations that they have experienced first hand. So diverse knowledge of people (including fictional people) would be important. Empathy could play a role in making second-hand motivations more accessible and broadening the scope of likely attributions.

The number of roles available to the reactor will vary with how much they view the world as dichotomous. It will likely also vary with things like conservatism or the tendency to narrowly define acceptable roles, so that one is, for example, a real man, a real woman or a freak.

So, just looking at how the reactor views the actor, I think we're looking at a scale of how much importance the actor's behavior is to perceptions. The qualities of the reactor don't become less important, but the balance shifts.

Off to think some about reactions rather than reactors.